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Monday, May 31, 2004

"THERE HERE!"

"I've only been here a bit," Mentor Chromal Brodsky tells me, smiling, "but a lot of new folks, to be sure."

"It's been very busy," fellow Mentor Kex Godel agrees. "Been answering lots of questions."

It's last week Tuesday at the Welcome Area, where new subscribers arrive from the self-guided orientation area known as Prelude. Welcome is where they get their first glimpse of Second Life proper. And since they come into this world with the barest understanding of how to shape their appearance, let alone much of anything else, most of them arrive with blocky, half-formed avatars, dazed and squinting at the options now before them. And the volunteer veteran residents known as Mentors are already waiting for them like a phalanx of midwives.

Toy LaFollette turns to me. "Good grief Ham, I been calling this area Ellis Island for three days, now."

A steady stream of users from another non-genre online world with a few surface similarities to Second Life have been pouring into the Welcome Area. It's not the role of New World Notes to speculate on the status of other online worlds-- especially when other blogs are better suited to provide far better coverage. But for whatever reason, former citizens of There were now here, looking for a new world to call their own.

Standing beside me, newcomer Maggie Morgan is standing in the arms-and-legs-open posture that avatars automatically go into, when their user is changing their physical appearance.

"Someone tell me," she pleads, "where do I get rid of freckles?"

"Maggie," Kex answers, "it's in your Appearance settings... hmm, can't remember where exactly, though-- let me look."

Nearby, someone named Max Bismark is wondering why the vehicle they just bought doesn't show up in his inventory.

"Did you check in your Objects folder?" Jazz Lomax asks him.

Yes, he did.

"OK," Jazz continues, "it might be in your main folder."

Kex Godel hands me a note, the same note she's been passing out to newly-arrived veterans of There. It's an exhaustive list of all the ways Second Life is not like their former world. "I spent about ten hours in There a month or so ago," she explains, grinning, as I read it. "Mostly to become familiar with the differences; came in handy for writing that."

More emigres are arriving.

"I am from There.com," nemi McCoy informs me, when I ask, "and I am hoping to make my home here."

Behind us, Maggie Morgan is still altering her avatar. "Can I change my face to something completely different?" she asks no one in particular.

Meanwhile, someone named Ayn Burke has just teleported into Welcome.

"I heard about Second Life [before]," Burke tells me, "but I just was talking with friends that I made in There. We were discussing our new home, and we decided to come here."

This is actually just the latest example of a broader phenomenon, one that happens all the time on a smaller scale, even with the most successful MMORPGs. For just about every prominent new world to go online, there are thousands of people who will leave their current virtual residence, to visit and evaluate. With every significant policy change or fee increase, thousands more will depart their usual world, in search of a place that has a better deal to offer. If they like what they see in the no-risk trial, and decide its stewards (i.e. management and customer support) run their state fairly, these visitors may eventually get dual citizenship, and live in both worlds-- or make a permanent move to the new homestead, encouraging their friends from the old world, to join them. The academics at Terra Nova might describe this process as "the disembodied, Rawlsian search for the ideal social contract among a variety of hypothetical socities". Gamers may be more inclined to call it something like, "OMG this place has too many PKers-- let's go try FFXI or CoH, cuz this game is teh suxOrs." (Which is pretty much saying the same thing, come to think of it.)

But none of this is meant to suggest that former members of There have left in a disenchanted huff-- far from it. Much affection still abounds.

"I think [There] was a much more appealing world to the newcomer," Viola Bach tells me, "especially one with no technical or gaming background." Viola has been a member of both worlds, in recent months. "I think Second Life has improved enormously in this area [but] when I started it was absolutely terrible, and I came very close to quitting after my first couple of weeks... When I started, I had no interest in building or designing anything. It was only after being in SL for a while that I discovered with a bit of a shock both that I could do these things."

By contrast, says Viola, "There are lots of touches that made There an instantly appealing place (avatar breathing is great), but I also loved having a central area where everyone could congregate, and I enjoyed it. I think with all worlds, however sophisticated they are, what you miss really comes down to the people. I'll miss my friends if I don't stay in touch with them, and I've a feeling that online friendship is a lot more ephemeral than real friendships."

"[A]bout two days after the announcement of the 'major changes' at There," dual citizen Van Onizuka tells me, "Me and Twist Zaius were setting up for an event at the Bada Bing! adult entertainment club, when we got to jokin' 'bout There. Me and Twist are goofy guys, who normally just kid around with each other. Well, when we were talkin' 'bout There, he goes, 'You know what we could do, we could make an island sim and recreate Karuna and stuff from There, and call it Here."

Onizuka giggles. "We just took it as a joke [but] about five minutes later, I was still thinkin' 'bout it. And I just say, 'You know what, Twist, that was ACTUALLY a good idea, coming from you.' So the next day we got to brainstorming, and made the club." And so was born The Here Project, a group that boasts about a dozen Second Life residents, who now seek to rent an entire simulator, and bring-- hard to resist, so I'll just come right out and say it, one last time-- and bring There, here.

This wouldn't be the first recreation of an online world within Second Life, though. The intricately planned island of Telador, for example, is the home of a few dozen exiles from Uru Live, and on it, they've recreated aspects of that recently-killed multiplayer spinoff of the Myst series. Meanwhile, the Mysterious Journey game project is another tribute to Uru Live, built by a rival band of Uru diasporans.

Back to the prospective island of Here: "We were hoping to have There members who want to support it put together the money and buy the island," says Van, "and officers help manage it."

"How many folks you think you'll need to do that?" I ask him.

"I don't know yet. It really depends on what kind of financial amounts we are going to be looking at, and how generous and dedicated those we do have are."

Standing alongside him, one of the Here Project's officers pipes up.

"It's gonna be really nice for building," says Kyle Rubio, laughing, "since we can keep costs low, and no submission team will slow us down."

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Comments

WOW! I made the news! You should see my face now! LOL

Hugs
Maggie

Posted by: Maggie Morgan at Aug 19, 2004 7:43:21 AM